Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Today in History: Thanksgiving during the Civil War, November 24, 1864

Although we traditionally trace the origins of this holiday to the Pilgrims' first Thanksgiving celebration in 1621, it did not become an annual celebration in the United States until 1863 and a federal holiday in 1941. In the colonial era, days of thanksgiving were designated throughout the year by individual colonies as a time for prayer and fasting. After the Revolutionary War, Thanksgiving days were occasionally proclaimed by American presidents or governors of individual states. During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation on October 3, 1863, proclaiming a national Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday of November.

The Clements Library collections include a wide array of materials related to Thanksgiving in American history, beginning with early colonial observances and continuing through the 19th century. To offer a glimpse of these rich holdings, the following items from the collection all describe a single date: Thanksgiving, November 24, 1864. Through printed materials and manuscripts centering on this particular date, we can see how Americans experienced this holiday in the midst of the Civil War.

The Union League Club's "Report of the committee on providing a Thanksgiving Dinner for the soldiers and sailors, presented December 14th, 1864." Includes copies of correspondence among the organizers, a description of the event, lists of those who contributed money or food for the dinner, and a summary of the expenses ($57,102.33).

During the Civil War, the Union League Club of New York determined to provide a Thanksgiving dinner to every soldier and sailor in the Union Army on November 24, 1864. They solicited donations from Northern citizens and distributed shipments of food for the dinner to as many of the army regiments and navy vessels as they could reach. The main challenges were to organize the donations pouring in from every Northern state, and keep the food from spoiling during transport by ship or railway to the different encampments. It was estimated that at least 373,586 lbs. of poultry was provided for the occasion, in addition to "an enormous quantity of cakes, doughnuts, gingerbread, pickles, preserved fruits, apples, vegetables, and all the other things which go to make up a Northern Thanksgiving Dinner." The organizers declared the effort a "grand success."

Benjamin C. Lincoln to Dora F. Lincoln, November 26, 1864

Writing to his wife from his post in Key West, Florida, during the Civil War, Benjamin Lincoln described the Thanksgiving dinner he had on the 24th. At that time, Benjamin Lincoln was a major with the 2nd United States Infantry Regiment (Colored).
"Thanksgiving night we had a first rate supper which Mrs. French & Weeks prepared. Some most excellent cakes and other things which I did not think possible to manufacture on this Island. We had a very pleasant time after supper all our officers were together and had a social chat.

I wished you were here but then wishes did not bring you, so I shall have to remain content until you can come, whenever that happy event may be."
On the same day, at the Second Presbyterian Church, Brooklyn, New York, the Rev. N. West delivered a sermon titled "Victory and Gratitude. A Thanksgiving Discourse." His was one of many Thanksgiving sermons delivered on November 24, 1864. The Clements Library has an extensive collection of American sermons, of which there are several hundred such Thanksgiving day addresses, dating from 1690 to the end of the 19th century.

Friday, November 13, 2009

From the Stacks: Two Hollow Books

In the Clements Library book collection, one small shelf of books has the call number "Curiosa." Here may be found oddities that fit nowhere else in the collection, including these two hollowed-out books. The smaller one is the Oeuvres choisies de Bossuet, volume 24 (1824), and the larger one is the Historie ecclesiastique par Monsieur l'Abbe Fleury, volume 1 of 20 (1722). Books like these provide an intriguing glimpse into the history of the book as an artifact. While most books are intended to be read, people have also used them for many other purposes such as decoration, furniture, or even storage.

Such book boxes, also known as "book safes," have a long history of use. They have been used to hide valuables from theft, smuggle weapons, drugs, and other contraband, and camouflage recording equipment and explosive devices. When backgammon was banned in England during the time of Henry VIII and all backgammon boards were ordered to be burned, people crafted them inside hollow books to conceal them. Hollow books were used during Prohibition to smuggle bottles of alcohol. Hiding an object in a book is also a popular plot device in fiction and film, including the movies From Russia with Love, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Matrix.

These book boxes were made by gluing the pages together, then cutting out the center of the text block and lining the interior. While hollow books may be considered delightful curiosities or useful hiding places by many, some book lovers can only regard the destruction of the book itself with horror. In The Anatomy of Bibliomania (2001), Holbrook Jackson eloquently writes:
"But what shall we say of those ghouls, chiefly in France, who scour the auction rooms, the booksellers' shops and the stalls, for choice and ancient bindings which they turn into boxes by gluing the pages together, cutting out the type area, and so translating books into receptacles for cigarettes, cigars, liqueurs, jewels, chocolates, bon-bons, or note-paper? And what of those who encourage this ghoulish trade? They are no better than body-snatchers, desecrators of the temple, vain, tawdry, callous, whether sellers of such monuments of destruction or buyers of them, biblioclasts and dolts to boot, necrophils of a sort..."
A typewritten note inside the Histoire ecclesiastique, presumably written by a past book curator at the Clements Library, reads, "This shell, once a book, is not placed here as a curiosity, but as a shameful example. The existence of this kind of thing is the reason some people may not share in the joys of this library."

If you want to try this at home, please don't use a library book. Better yet, create a faux book by decorating a box to look like a book. Almost as good, but without the guilt, and then you can have fun making up imaginary titles to use for your faux book collection. Charles Dickens had a collection of such books, with entertaining titles like The Corn Question by John Bunyan, Dr. Kitchener's Life of Captain Cook, and Mr. J. Horner on Poets' Corner. Another fake library, described by Aldous Huxley, included such titles as Biography of Men who were Born Great, Biography of Men who Achieved Greatness, Biography of Men who had Greatness thrust upon Them, and Biography of Men who were Never Great at All.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Playing Ball with Legends: An Afternoon with Don Lund, Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Tuesday, November 17, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
in the Main Room of the Clements Library
909 S. University Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109

Enjoy never-before published personal stories about famous sports legends.

Please join us to hear noted local businessman Jim Irwin and legendary University of Michigan athlete Don Lund. Jim will be discussing his new book, Playing Ball with Legends: The Story and the Stories of Don Lund. This is an exciting biographical look at one of Michigan’s most talented and honored athletes.

Don Lund is the winner of 9 varsity letters at UM, a member of the University of Michigan Hall of Honor and the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame and a Major League baseball player. He will speak about his years as an athlete and a coach with the University of Michigan and his career as a Major League baseball player. Don is admired by thousands and this will be an entertaining and interesting look at his career.

This event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. For additional information, please contact the Clements Library at (734) 764-2347 or clements.library@umich.edu.